Sales enablement is a hot topic lately, with an increasing number of CRM and sales/marketing automation vendors providing sales enablement solutions. However, according to Dan Schleifer, senior director of marketing for enterprise sales collaboration software provider SAVO Group, the full potential of sales enablement lies in revealing what happens in the middle of the sales process.

Sales Enablement in the Middle

“CRM is the accounting system of record for sales at the tail end of the process,” Schleifer said during an exclusive interview with CMSWire. “Email and social tools are at the top. But in the middle of the process, assuming sales reps don’t do decent jobs entering sales contacts into the CRM system, and they invariably don’t; you don’t get visibility into what is happening in the field when the sales rep’s lips are flapping.”

Thus, Schleifer said there is no single tool that provides sales visibility all the way down the sales pipeline, from initial prospecting to closing (or not closing) a deal. He continued,

Marketing automation is important but doesn’t close the deal. CRM backs in from the closed deal further into the selling process. But nobody is collecting data such as what PowerPoint slide the sales rep used at what stage of the sales presentation. We don’t know what objections were handled or what team members were pulled in.”

For example, Schleifer said that a project manager may have been called in to all the successful sales presentations for a specific service or product, but this data is not captured in the traditional marketing automation/CRM information-gathering process. “It’s the essence of what makes B2B sales tick,” he said.

From the Field to the Home Office

Therefore, Schleifer said the full potential of sales enablement technology lies in its ability to uncover what is really happening in the field, identify success factors, and then communicate those factors throughout the enterprise. In addition, he said properly applied sales enablement tools can provide “short cycle feedback” allowing adjustments to sales strategies as they are being enacted.

“As a sales executive I don’t want to wait for the CRM system to tell me that a new product release is not resulting in closed sales,” he stated. “The critical moment of truth in any sales process is when the rep is sitting with the customer. Sales enablement allows you to understand that moment of truth.”

By automatically collecting data in real time while a sales rep is making a presentation or pitch, via mobile device, sales enablement tools can eliminate organizational silos and fill the gaps in B2B sales data quickly enough for sales strategies to be altered as soon as problems can be identified. They also allow senior management to quickly understand what makes top performers stand out compared to their peers.

“Any VP of sales can tell you who their top performers are,” said Schleifer. “But they can’t tell you why. Sales enablement technology allows them to collect and process data on their top performers and determine patterns of success that then be pushed to all sales reps through the right coaching. It changes the sales process.”

Ultimately, Schleifer said a sales enablement tool should work the way an assistant aiding a surgeon works. “The assistant hands the surgeon every tool they need,” he said. “That person knows everything -- the surgeon doesn’t have to write it down.”

In the next few years, Schleifer sees sales enablement technology developing to the point it can provide senior management with real-time actionable feedback from the field, rather than short-cycle feedback. “Executives will get a real-time field view and be able to take immediate action,” he predicted. "It’s really just Big Data and analytics wrapped around the right data. Within days or even hours of a new product release, you’ll know if it’s working.”

Eloqua Takes Slightly Different View

A new e-book from marketing automation vendor Eloqua, “The Grande Guide to Sales Enablement,” delves into the concept of sales enablement in detail. According to Eloqua, sales enablement assumes a largely independent buying process, where the sale is facilitated more than “driven” or “closed.” It follows established best practices of selling goods and services, including sharing relevant marketing data with salespeople, identifying and passing on techniques of top-performing sales reps to other team members, and providing tools and information in salespeople’s existing email, CRM and mobile applications.

While Eloqua’s vision of sales enablement does not exactly match that of Savo Group’s vision, there is an overall philosophical agreement on sales enablement as a tool for capturing and distributing best practices, and providing sales reps with data and capabilities in the field. Eloqua also forsees a future where sales enablement will be increasingly integrated with mobile devices for real-time field access.

Sales Enablement as a Customer Problem Solver

In a Forrester blog posting, T-Systems VP of Sales Enablement Tamara Schenk said that sales enablement is also useful as a tool for solving customer problems. “It's about changing the mindset from ‘I have to sell an offering or a service’ to ‘I love to solve customer problems!’” she said. “The long-term future is the true change towards outside-in in people's mind, hearts and souls -- and a proven track record regarding profitable growth!”